I recently had the opportunity to work on a summer research project exploring the market for embedded MFP Apps – essentially programs that can be installed on a device without the need for a network server. The experience offered me a rare change of pace from gap’s weekly schedule to report on a subject that’s top of mind for many in the imaging industry. With the project now (more or less) complete, I wanted to share some key points about the embedded App market and how this small segment of the industry is taking shape.

There’s no denying that solutions and services are an important part of many imaging vendors’ current strategies, promising expansion into more profitable business segments, adding value to imaging hardware, and diversifying revenue sources. With embedded apps in particular, some vendors have been developing platforms and growing their app portfolio for several years. Yet we found that the market is still incredibly young, and that strategies and capabilities vary greatly between competitors.

For some, embedded Apps represent a small and fairly insignificant part of a larger solutions strategy, which may include more robust server-based and cloud-based solutions. For other vendors, Apps installed directly onto an MFP are the primary way of offering value-added document solutions. Embedded MFP Apps themselves may or may not be expected to generate additional revenue. However, many vendors do expect Apps to help create additional print jobs, and most see Apps as a means of driving brand ‘stickiness.’

Not only is the business importance of embedded Apps quite different between companies, but the delivery mechanism of these Apps varies as well. In a few cases, end-users are encouraged to browse and download Apps in a similar manner to iPhone users downloading from the Apple App Store. More often, Apps are only available through the vendors themselves or a select number of trained and authorized resellers, and are often customized to fit specific customer needs. While resellers are adept at selling, there is something interesting about the way that an App store changes the way users interact with and customize their MFPs (if they want to). Not surprisingly, some vendors have alluded to plans to increase end-user App accessibility in the future.

Despite all these differences across the competitive App landscape, one common strategy is the need to understand customer pains before implementing a solution. While this sounds straightforward, adjusting the customer approach of direct sales teams and resellers remains difficult, especially when hardware and clicks are still paying the bills. Considering that, the success of a given solutions strategy will rely just as much on training, implementation, and economic incentives as the performance of the software platform and Apps themselves.

Through our research, we saw that the future of the solutions market will be a dynamic mix of technologies that address the most demanding business problems down to the simplest office document workflows – embedded MFP apps are just one small piece of this growing market. Moving forward, success favors those vendors that have a clear understanding of their customer’s needs, a flexible platform, and responsive software development that can produce effective and reliable solutions.